Defeated Australian Open semifinalist Alexander Zverev backed his conqueror, Dominic Thiem, to be competitive in the final against Novak Djokovic, saying: ‘He’s playing the best tennis of his life.’
Australian Open tennis is live from Melbourne from 20 January until 2 February 2020.
Zverev fell to Thiem in four sets in what was a first Australian Open semifinal for them both.
Thiem has made the final of the French Open twice and was a Roland Garros semifinalist twice before that, but had never gone beyond the quarterfinals at another major in the past.
For Zverev, this year in Melbourne marked even more of a breakthrough: The German, who has been ranked as high as world no. 3 and is a three-time Masters 1000 Series champion, had never made it past the quarterfinals of any major, and had only gone that far at the French Open.
Zverev defied the expectations created by a torrid time at the ATP Cup, when he went 0-3 and at one point served 14 double faults in a single match, with a stunning run past quality opposition to reach his maiden Grand Slam semifinal.
He had dropped just one set in wins over Fernando Verdasco, Andrey Rublev and Stan Wawrinka, but found himself unable to find the solution against Thiem, who won their semifinal 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4) to set up a final against seven-time champion Novak Djokovic.
A disappointed Zverev nevertheless insisted that Thiem had a good chance in the final despite Djokovic’s unbeaten record in Australian Open title matches:
‘It’s more difficult. But I think he has a chance. He’s playing the best tennis of his life.’
The pair had last met in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals last November, when Thiem ended Zverev’s title defense with a 7-5, 6-3 victory.
‘I think he’s playing much better than he played in London, to be honest. I think it was a much better match that we played.
‘Yeah, I do believe that he has a chance. I do believe he’s playing good enough. I wish him nothing but the best.’
This time last year, Thiem was viewed as primarily a clay-court specialist whose best chance of winning a Grand Slam would always be at the French Open (despite the presence of Rafael Nadal in residence as the greatest clay-courter of all time). But the Austrian made great strides on hard courts in 2019, winning his maiden Masters 1000 Series title at Indian Wells, claiming 500 titles in Beijing and Vienna and reaching the final of the season-ending championship.
‘He flattens his shot[s] out much more. Before he was a complete clay-court player. A lot of movement, a lot of running around, stuff like that.
‘Now he has a complete hard-court game, which he can play on clay. Of course, he still plays the old way [on clay]. On hard court, he’s a much different and better player.’
Zverev himself was clearly disappointed to have lost Friday’s semifinal, but can leave Melbourne pleased to have finally broken through to the closing stages of a major, especially after his dire build-up to the tournament.
The German credited a different psychological approach for his success in Melbourne, saying:
‘I went here in a different way. I went match by match. Didn’t look very far. I just knew I had opponents in front of me. I had to play well to beat them. That was it.
‘Whenever I won, I’d sit down in the locker room and somebody told me who I’m playing next. I went step by step, match by match. Usually I [haven’t done] that in Grand Slams.’